Friday, February 28, 2014

A second chance

HAPPY AT HEART: Keith and Kevin Mullen one year after their open-heart surgeries.

Since childhood, Keith and Kevin Mullen have shared many life experiences, but the twin brothers never thought open-heart surgery would be on that list.

In November 2012, shortly after their 50th birthday celebration, Keith’s health suddenly declined. During a routine medical exam, he mentioned that occasionally he’d been experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain during exercise or any kind of exertion. Unknowingly, these casual remarks may have saved his life.

Keith was referred to Charles Boucher, MD, a cardiologist in the MGH Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care, for multiple tests, which revealed serious coronary artery disease (CAD). “The situation was so dangerous, we didn’t let him leave the MGH,” says Boucher. “Keith was a heart attack waiting to happen. It wasn’t a question of ‘if’ he might have a heart attack but ‘when.’ ”

Keith was admitted to the hospital and tethered to heart monitors as he cautiously awaited the next step. “I basically just lived at the MGH for almost a week, counting down the days to my imminent surgery,” Keith says. “I thought I would’ve been out and back to work in a day.” Six days later, Keith underwent sextuple coronary bypass graft surgery to treat six blocked arteries. “I didn’t have enough passageways for back-up. If the unthinkable had happened, it probably would’ve been the end for me.”

The surgery was doubly a second chance for Kevin, who did not know he was in danger until after his brother’s diagnosis. CAD is often hereditary and usually does not present symptoms for several years. As happens all too often, Keith and Kevin didn’t realize the full extent of their symptoms or how the heart disease was affecting their lives, until after they were treated.

In February 2013, just two months after his brother’s open-heart surgery, Kevin was diagnosed with the same condition and also underwent quintuple bypass surgery to treat five blocked arteries. Thomas MacGillivray, MD, co-director of the MGH Thoracic Aortic Center, performed both surgeries. “These are two relatively young men who had a very serious heart condition. It’s very gratifying to see them recover well and to be able to give them an improved quantity and quality of life.”

It has been one year since the twins’ surgeries, and despite the life-altering diagnoses, they say their lives have changed for the better and even call themselves lucky. Keith and Kevin say they have adapted to a heart-healthier lifestyle, are on a safe exercise plan and have completely transformed their diet. But the biggest change of all? “We hug a lot more,” they say.

Read more articles from the 02/28/14 Hotline issue.




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